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11 July 2006

Meetings between offenders and victims could cut crime

by MICHAEL HOWIE, The Scotsman

YOUNG offenders who meet their victims are less likely to reoffend than those who have no contact, according to a new report that suggests the tactic could be a key to reducing crime in Scotland.

The Scotsman has learned that an evaluation of a youth restorative justice programme, run by the charity Safeguarding Communities - Reducing Reoffending (SACRO), has found repeat offending was markedly reduced in those who were forced to face up to their actions.

In the SACRO project, nearly 200 children in Aberdeen who had offended were "tracked" for a year to study the impact of meeting victims on their behaviour. About 80 were first offenders and, of those, 86 per cent did not reoffend in the 12 months after working with SACRO. Previous studies have found that the equivalent figure for children who do not take part in restorative justice schemes is between 65-70 per cent.

Meanwhile, authorities saw a 10 per cent reduction in crime among 20 hardcore offenders - responsible for a total of 383 crimes each - who took part in the project.

One in four victims and one in five offenders were prepared to engage with the scheme, when approached.

SACRO said offenders were made aware of the consequences of their crime, while young people were less likely to be "demonised".

The report said: "The findings ... show that people tend to get a lot out of these experiences, and it seems that the negative human consequences are reduced and action, which may be senseless, can be resolved."

News of the study may provide some relief to the justice minister, Cathy Jamieson, on the day that figures are published showing the Scottish Executive has failed to meet its target on youth crime.

A report from the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) will today confirm that ministers have failed to achieve their target of a 10 per cent reduction in the number of persistent young offenders by April this year.

It is expected that Ms Jamieson will respond to the figures by further criticising councils and police forces who she believes are failing to make full use of new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Billy Nicol, SACRO's youth justice advisor, said the report showed that reoffending rates could be reduced further if more victims and offenders were prepared to engage in the schemes. He added: "I think this report suggests that restorative justice could be used for more serious cases."

The Executive's target on persistent offending was set in 2002 and since then ministers have introduced a range of new measures, including dispersal orders to crack down on gangs and anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) for under-16s, to meet the challenge.

Ms Jamieson last month blamed some local authorities for a "disappointing" lack of progress, and announced a youth justice delivery team had been set up.

SCRA figures for the third-quarter of 2005-6 showed an increase in the number of persistent young offenders referred to the children's reporter of 11 from 207 for the corresponding period in 2004-5.

The Executive provided local authorities with £1.5 million last year to fund 4,000 places on restorative justice schemes.

The SNP last night welcomed the findings of the report and called on ministers to ensure long-term funding for such schemes.

The party's deputy justice spokesman, Stewart Stevenson, said: "I'm very pleased that the Aberdeen project has been working well, although we have to be cautious with early trials. We support the use of restorative justice schemes, which have been successful elsewhere in the world."

An Executive spokeswoman said: "We are encouraged by the success of the Aberdeen project, and will continue to work to develop a clear evidence base on which to base future decisions."

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